For fun and for play

“What do you like doing for fun?”

An ex-boyfriend asked me that 9 years ago and I didn’t know how to answer. I at first said “hanging out with people”. Doing what others like doing. Then he rephrased the question, “What do you like doing for fun?”

I couldn’t answer.

Granted, it was in the middle of an argument and forced self-relevations in those times were our way of winning.

But today, after my failed attempt at playing the game, I realized this…play…is what I miss. As a kid, my parents with their price consciousness rarely lavished toys on my sister and me. I never had my first Barbie until I about to leave childhood.

But still surrounded with our stuffed animals, my sister and I would create large imaginary worlds with the evil monsters our were seeking our dolls to be made into slaves. There were clouds above us where they were watching us. In our own hut (aka the finely finished redwood dining table), we would prepare in case of an attack.

Then I was forced to grow up. My imaginary worlds became the persona I would inhabit when I was addicted to chat rooms. Not to the extent of completely fabricating another identity. Rather, I would be the extroverted, sociable person online. In this world with the friends I made in Michigan, Minnesota, Australia, Singapore, New York, Canada, France…I played. Dramas and tragedy alike.

Play became social interaction—always trying to determine the right strategy. I took game design in graduate school, trying to seek how play was created, how the imagination would create something that everyone else would enjoy. During my first year in San Francisco, I was enthralled by flash mobs of pillow fights and flash freezes. For Bay to Breakers, I would plan my costume…in preparation.

Then when I saw Jane McGonigal speak at SXSW. And then my class at BATS improv. Suddenly it made sense what I was missing. The feeling of play. The ability to make sense of the urban playground. Yesterday in a rant of missing play, a friend asked, “Isn’t that what vacation is for?”

But it isn’t. I am trapped by others’ expectations. I once said that I didn’t know how to be myself—that I could only be a composite of other people. There was a test once that said that I was a performer. But it’s experience that I seek—the experience of wonder and curiosity. And the experience that I have learned something about myself that I didn’t know before.

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